The reason I still believe is because no matter how smart we get, no matter how fast we can travel or how far we can go, we can never escape the human condition. We can never escape what it means to be human. In my office is a picture of a man hanging on a tree. His body has been beaten beyond recognition. As if the image isn’t startling enough, it’s not that image that is most shocking. What’s most troubling is those who are standing underneath the tree. These are those who hung the man on the tree after he had been tried and found guilty. The smiles on their faces, as they stand their admiring their work is unbelievable. Here they stand, never more happy or proud of their accomplishment–destroying a life. If you are thinking that the image I am describing is that of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross over two thousand years ago, you’re wrong.
The image is a photograph of Jesse Washington hanging on a tree on May 15th, 1916 in Waco, TX. Jesse was a young black man who was thought to be guilty of a crime against a white woman. Jesse was forcibly taken from the courthouse by an angry mob. They took a metal chain and made a noose to put around Jesse’s neck. They drug him just down the street of Waco’s city hall.
Along the way thousands of people gathered to watch and participate in the spectacle, some called a, “celebration.” Kids were aloud to take their lunch period to participate in stabbing, kicking and punching Jesse, as he was being drug down the street. When they arrived at city hall, others had prepared a bon fire beneath a tree. The mob brought knives so that they could cut off Jesse’s fingers and toes. They even cut off his genitals.
Then, they covered Jesse with oil and hung him on the tree above the burning flames. To maximize Jesse’s suffering, they lowered him into the fire, and then pulled him out again and again to keep him alive and in horrible pain as long as possible. When the fire died, so did Jesse. The mob then cut off pieces of Jesse’s body to take as souvenirs, or to sell to those who didn’t get to participate in the celebration. Children were allowed to remove Jesse’s teeth from his skull to take with them for show and tell.
Why do I still believe, you ask? In this world of information, we get a closer look at the human condition. In spite of all our human advances, we still live in a world where children are not safe from even their own mothers. We live in a world where no matter how fancy our televisions are, they still show us how someone is murdered everyday. We hear and see how so many people are suffering from violent crimes that happen in broad daylight at places like the local supermarket.
We can’t escape the hopelessness in the faces of a mother who’s child was ripped out of her arms while she desperately screams and then dies from her gunshot wounds. You might think this would have happened in a dark alley somewhere—you would be wrong. It happened to Kala Schuchardt in Houston, TX, while she was taking her newborn baby girl, Keegan, to the doctor’s office for a check up. It happened in broad daylight, in a crowded public parking lot.
Why do I still believe? Because we still live in a world lost in the human condition. What is the human condition? The human condition is the state of disconnection along with moral and ethical bankruptcy.We still live in a world where the poor are getting poorer, and the rich are getting richer, but they are both depressed to the point of suicide. Why do I still believe? It is because no matter how many things we collect, we can’t fill the deep void within. The reason I still believe is because, I too have had to hear the doctor say, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.”
Yes, I can fill my belly to my heart’s content, and I can find more things to entertain myself than I have time to be entertained, but I am still in need of something more. The reason I still believe is because if I give up believing in a God who understands it all, then I give up having hope. What is the worth of more things if we still don’t have hope? The reason I still believe is because something strange happened while I was staring at Jesse Washington’s mutilated body hanging on that tree. I heard a voice.
The voice said that the person I was looking at was not Jesse. The person I was looking at was Jesus. I began to despise and judge the people standing there laughing at Jesse. The voice said the people at the bottom of the tree were not the white folks from Waco. It was me at the bottom of that tree. It was me who had committed this atrocity of hanging a man on a tree.
The reason I still believe is because of the beast within my own human condition. Without God, we would be left to survive a life void of real meaning, and purpose. The reason I still believe is because if I don’t, then Darwin was right, and only the strongest deserve to live.
Yes, we live in good times, but this is not as good as things are going to get. Yes, we’ve done some great things, but our true greatness is not the human capability, because we are just as capable of the most heinous and barbaric acts. The reason I still believe is because, if not, I will be left with my state of depravity. The crimes I defined above were not committed by bad human. These crimes were committed by humans being human. The reason I still believe is because when I’m being human, I must concede, that I could be guilty of committing the same crimes and even worse. My belief in the human spirit that can be reconciled with a loving, and forgiving God gives me hope.
I still believe in god because I have the choice to turn off the news. If I didn’t believe in the greatness of a holy, loving God the only choice I would have would be to put my trust in my own humanity, and in yours. So, in a strange way, I feel most grateful to Jesse and those who hanged him on the tree. It reminds me of our need to reconcile with the Almighty God who created us all. It is easy to question the reality of God when you think of tragedies like 9/11. But another reason I still believe is because on that same horrible day, there was still a miracle.
On United flight 93 there were people from different backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and genders, but in the face of certain death a miracle happened; those United airplane passengers united to overcome evil. They gave their lives to defeat evil. In that moment lives, other than their own, were more important and more valuable to them. They made the greatest of all sacrifices—they gave their lives for others. They voluntarily climbed up on that tree of death because the miracle of life was so important to them. The miracle of life was more important than their differences. They didn’t care where each other came from, or what sort of background they had. These miracle workers didn’t care if the person helping was gay or straight, black or white, young or old. All that mattered was saving the lives of other human beings. That’s why I still have hope. That’s why I still believe. I hope you, too, still believe.